Saturday, June 14, 2003

New avatars

ABSOLUTELY and basically are two words that have begun to dominate conversations. 'Are you coming for the party?' 'Absolutely!' 'What do you think of this book?' 'Basically, it's about`85..' Sometimes, one feels that perhaps some new code of conduct dictates the prefixing of these words before all sentences. More alarmingly, these two words have now crept into the written corpus as well. Absolutely, from the Latin absolutus meant, literally, freed or unrestricted. As an adverb is used to show that there is no restriction or limitation with regard to the verb used, as in 'trusting absolutely'. At some point of time, absolutely became an independent agent, standing for the complete sentence as in 'Were you given a free hand on the site?' 'Absolutely!' Fundamentally; a look at the origin makes this clear. ‘Basically’ is an adverb that comes from basic that originated from the Latin basis, which means pedestal, the base of a statue. Today, basically has become a tag to be tagged on to all or any statements. 'What's your name?' 'Basically, my name is...'

May 24, 2003
Once upon a time...
May 10, 2003
Gifts from writers
April 26, 2003
Creative destruction
April 12, 2003
Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003
Describing people
March 1, 2003
A living language
February 15, 2003
The New Year - III
February 1, 2003
The New Year - II
January 18, 2003

Good anecdotes are often called 'classic' or, the cut of a garment may be termed 'classic' or, a sportsperson can make 'classic' blunders. Originally, classic meant 'of a high social class' from the Latin adjective classicus carrying the same meaning. Seventeenth century onwards, classic meant works written in Latin and Greek and the word classical came to be applied to those literatures, languages and eras. By extension, anything perfect came to be called classic. Today, classic can refer to anything unique, different or well done.

The classic excuse professionals dish up these days is the 'meeting-with-the-client' one. Up to the 15th century, only lawyers had clients until the moneylenders joined the client bandwagon. Today, anyone who pays for professional services, hairdressing, advertising, marketing, et al, is a client. Considering the practice of fleecing clients, the origin of client stands justified. Client has its origins in an ancient protection racket. In Rome, cliens were the plebeians sheltered under the patronage of a particular patrician. In return for the patron's protection and the promise of a peaceful life, the cliens would pay through the nose.

Logistics is another plea that comes up whenever a service is sought: 'I'll work out the logistics and get back to you'. Incidentally, the word has nothing to do with logic. Logistics comes from the French logistique, a word first used in The summary of the art of war by Baron de Jomini. He created the term for the practice of supplying troops, not only logis or lodgings, but food, boots, uniforms, medical aid and the rest. The Civil War onwards, the American Military used it in this sense. Around the year 1963, logistics entered the everyday lexicon in the sense of the detailed coordination of any complex operation involving a number of people, facilities or supplies. The operation could be anything, from the conduct of an examination to the construction of a building to the launch of a new product.


On being borrowed by Hindi from Sanskrit, guna took on a new avatar. The Sanskrit guna originates from the Iranian gaono, meaning hair. The idea of hair being braided via three different strands led to the use of guna as the equilibrium of the three elements of satva, rajas and tamas in the human being. Hindi developed it further by the implication that the right equilibrium would lead to a good characteristic.

This feature was published on June 7, 2003